‘Brexit’ the film Britain never wanted


For British film producers plying their wares at the Cannes festival, the prospect of Brexit represents something between a tale of suspense and an outright horror movie.

There are many worried faces amongst all the razzamatazz at the glitzy festival in the south of France — namely those of British film-makers fretting over what exiting the European Union will mean for their country’s powerful movie industry, and the European producers who often work with them.

“We’re heartbroken, really,” said British producer Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock, who is currently working with a Paris-based director on a documentary about intelligence agencies.

“My time has always been spent travelling to Europe, whether to co-production markets from Gran Canaria or the Berlin film festival, for 20 years. There’s a worry that the laws will change and everything will become harder than it already is. We’re being isolated from our colleagues.”

Topping the list of concerns: what the possibility of much tighter immigration controls might mean for the highly-internationalised industry, and the potential loss of access to EU cash that has previously helped fund British hits like Oscar-winner “The King’s Speech” and last year’s Cannes winner “I, Daniel Blake”.

Then there is the wider unknown impact of a potential exit from the EU’s single market in the case of a so-called “hard Brexit”.

An enormous chunk of the money that feeds Britain’s film industry comes from abroad — according to the British Film Institute, inward investment made up 86 percent of the £1.9 billion ($2.5 billion, 2.2 billion euros) spent on movie production in the UK in the year from April 2016.

– ‘Film finds a way’ –

Some European producers in Cannes said they were reluctant to work with British film companies until the cliffhanger of what Brexit will look like is resolved after two years of gruelling negotiations.

“We’re an international company, we work with sales agents everywhere — very often the United States. And they’re telling us, ‘If you can, do not set up new projects as British co-productions,'” said German producer Jens Meurer.

“It’s not about punishing Britain — it’s not good news for anyone,” he told a foreign agency.

But it’s relatively easy to make an English-language film without ever setting foot in Britain — shot “between Germany and Belgium, say, with American actors” — and if that becomes the easiest option, Meurer predicted, that’s what will happen.

For Emjay Rechsteiner, Amsterdam-based producer of “The Devil’s Double” which starred Britain’s Dominic Cooper as a body-double for the playboy son of Saddam Hussein, one of the biggest worries is that access to British stars and facilities could become more complicated.

“It’s the access to talent and British co-production facilities, specifically sound — the quality is the best you can find in Europe,” he said. “I’m terribly worried.”

Though it’s possible to find the odd pro-Brexit star like John Cleese, many in British movie-making vocally opposed Brexit before last June’s referendum, with some 200 celebrities including Kiera Knightley, Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch signing a letter urging voters to back the EU.

On the production side, practical benefits like the EU’s MEDIA fund — which has handed out nearly 130 million euros to British film-makers since 2007 — made staying in the bloc a no-brainer for many.

But there were glimmers of hope at Cannes that this drama might not have an unhappy ending after all.

At a “Brexit briefing” packed with anxious industry professionals, Brussels-based media lawyer Sunniva Hansson stressed a few factors that could help minimise the instability.

There is no sign that Britain will do away with its 25 percent tax credit on film production, she said, also pointing to legal structures that should help co-productions between British and European companies continue.

A handful of countries, like Ukraine, have access to the EU’s Creative Europe funding scheme despite not being members of the bloc.

“There are very helpful precedents there which hopefully gives people a lot of confidence that we’re going to be alright,” said Isabel Davis, head of international at the British Film Institute.

“To paraphrase ‘Jurassic Park’, film finds a way.”